AUSTRALIAN PM TO ALLOW CONSCIENCE VOTE ON STEM CELLS
Tue Aug 15, 1:38 AM ET
SYDNEY (AFP) - Australian
Prime Minister John Howard will allow members of his conservative government a conscience vote on stem cell research, officials
Howard had faced a backbench
revolt from colleagues dissatisfied over his cabinet's decision last June to maintain an existing ban on theraputic cloning
for embryonic stem cell research.
The prime minister had previously
said there was no need to change existing laws on the issue. But a government spokesman said he had agreed to a free vote
after a meeting of lawmakers from the ruling Liberal-National coalition Tuesday.
The spokesman said Howard
told the meeting: "You can't impose a government view on something like this."
review of biotechnology last December recommended scientists should be allowed to use therapeutic cloning to generate stem
cells for research into specific diseases.
Instead, the cabinet voted
to maintain 2002 laws allowing only spare embryos left over from in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures to be used for research.
Scientists who were part
of the government review had claimed researchers were leaving Australia because of the government-imposed
restrictions on their work.
Neuroscientist Peter Schofield
said earlier this week that a conscience vote on stem cell research would help debate on the issue. "It is a difficult and
emotionally charged area," he said.
Scientists hope that stem
cells, which are master cells found in embryos and adults, can be grown into a variety of tissues and cells which will help
treat degenerative diseases such as Parkinson's and motor neurone disease.
But opponents of stem cell
research say the artificial manipulation of human embryos raises religious and ethical problems.
While there is no legislation
currently before parliament dealing with stem cell research, Democrats senator Natasha Stott Despoja has indicated she intends
to introduce a private member's bill on the issue.